This blog is going to be a 3 part blog on Health and Safety and the main things you need to consider as a small company. It’s not intended to cover everything you should cover but details what you must cover by law as well as a few good practise ideas you might also want to implement. The following areas are going to be covered during the 3 parts.
- Your Responsibility
- Getting Started
- Minimum Legal Requirements
- Health and Safety Policy
- Health and Safety Training
- Record Keeping
- Accident Recording and Reporting
- Risk Assessments
As a new company or a growing small company, health and safety is likely to be one of the last things on your mind. But with todays ‘blame’ and ‘sue’ cultures it’s important that you cover yourself. It is your legal responsibility to make sure you provide a safe working environment for employees, customers, suppliers and anyone else who may come into contact with your business.
Information on your legal responsibilities can be found in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 but as a summary you are required to:
But don’t worry, not all the responsibilities lay on yourselves, your employees are responsible for taking reasonable care of themselves whilst at work and ensuring the safety of customers and suppliers.
Although some of this may require some investment on your part the Act does say these responsibilities are to be carried out ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’.
You need to make a judgement about the cost implications against the safety gain of any activity controls you plan to carry out as you are not expected to completely eradicate all risks within your workplace.
Instead you need to be able to control these risks – creating control measures by which you can minimise the consequence and likelihood of these risks occurring and provide a constant monitoring means.
Firstly you need to appoint someone to be responsible for your health and safety needs. For a small business this is mostly controlled by the manager but this can be anyone as long as they have the relevant skills and knowledge to be able to carry out a Health and Safety Function.
This doesn’t require a formal qualification but does mean you need to ensure this person is competent and aware of the legal responsibilities. If you are a high risk business you may want to use an external company to act as your health and safety appointed person but this does mean extra expense.
Minimum Legal Requirements for an Office
Every business must have Employers Liability Insurance as stated in the Employers Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969. This covers the business for the cost of accidents from work based activities. This should be displayed in the workplace.
If you are dealing with the public you will probably also require Public Liability Insurance.
Posters and Signage:
We’ve all seen this poster, the nice big Health and Safety Poster with some basic information on as well as information on who to contact for any health and safety issues.
Well this must be displayed in a prominent position where all staff have access to it. It’s not expensive to buy but does need to be kept up to date.
There also needs to be no smoking signs displayed, fire exit signs and signs relating to hazards or dangerous substances.
There are certain facilities that have to be provided for employees within the workplace.
These include clean toilets, hand washing facilities with both hot and cold water (including hand wash and either hand towels or a hand dryer), fresh drinking water, clothes storage (a coat rack or hooks are fine).
Considerations also need to be made for temperature – this will usually need to be above 16 degrees although this varies for certain businesses and working environments.
There also needs to be adequate ventilation and lighting. You also need to have bins which need to be appropriate and emptied regularly. There is also guidance on room around desks.
There needs to be room for employees to get in and out of there desk or working area safely (each employee must have 11 cubic meters of space). The working area also needs to be well maintained and safe.
There shouldn’t be any objects blocking exit routes or through routes in the office and no tripping hazards present.
A general standard of hygiene must be maintained with clean environments and regular emptying of bins.
If employees are aged 18 or over, then they are entitled to 20 minutes uninterrupted rest break for every 6 hours worked. Employees are also entitled to 20mins to get changed into uniform should they need to.
Risk assessments are a legal requirement – it is a legal requirement for you to be able to assess the health and safety risks arising out of your workplace and an employees work.
Everyone in the organisation needs to be aware and trained in health and safety and be aware of their responsibilities. This could mean in house training or formal qualifications – this should be determined on the size of the organisation and the level of risk.
All organisations with more than 5 employees need to have a policy – this can be a simple one page policy statement or a more detailed policy
Staff should be provided with the correct and safe equipment to perform their job, this includes protective equipment and computer equipment (suitable and safe under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER).
VDU for Office Workers:
Office workers who habitually use computer equipment for a significant part of their day are entitled to have their eye test paid for by the organisation…
At an interval determined by the optician (this will vary amongst employees dependant on need).
If they require glasses for computer use then the cost of these should also be reimbursed by the employer.
The computer screen must be adjustable as far as brightness and position go.
It must not flicker or get glare from the sun. Keyboards should also have the option to tilt.
Chairs should have adjustable height and have room to move around them.
You cannot discriminate against disabled people because of the adjustments you may need to make to accommodate them. You are required to make reasonable adjustments which is very much a judgement call but you must look at cost vs discrimination.
First Aid Provision
There must be first aid provision throughout the building which is dependant on the size and nature of the building.
A small office is required, at the least, to have a fully stocked first aid box accompanied by the name of the nominated first aider and trained first aiders (legally you do not have to have trained first aiders but its advisable to have someone who can advise on this area)
As well as the fire risk assessment the business needs to check you meet the necessary fire safety standards which can include:
Accidents and Incidents:
- Any accident or incidents must be recorded – it is also good practice to keep a log of near misses too.
- These records must be kept for 3 years but this can include scanned copies rather than hard copies.
- Any work related incident or accident which requires an employee to be off from work, or unable to fulfill their full range of duties for more than 3 days must be reported to the HSE.
- Any serious incidents, dangerous occurrences or deaths must also be reported through RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and dangerous Occurrences Regulations).
Public Liability Insurance:
This isn’t a legal requirement but if you are dealing with customers / the public then it’s very important you get this.
Even with the most robust risk assessments and health and safety procedures there is always some element of risk that means the public could have an accident.
Working from Home:
Staff working from home have the same entitlement as office based workers. They requires work station assessments and similar levels of protection as those in the workplace. This also includes properly maintained equipment, break times and recording of accidents.
Health and Safety Policy
Setting up a health and safety policy can be quite a daunting task as it needs to relate to your legal obligations and provide employees and customers with guidance about yours and their responsibility.
There are many, many templates available for free so the best place to start is to search for a free template of a similar business to yourself. The HSE website provides some example policies to use as guidance and these will contain all you need to get started.
But if you are starting from scratch there are some essential elements you need to include which are:
- Your commitment – a statement of your health and safety intentions
- Responsibilities of the Business
- Responsibilities of the Health and Safety Appointed Person
- Responsibilities of the Employees
- Implementation and Reporting Arrangements
- Managing Risks and Risk Assessments
- Where to go for advice
If you cover all these areas you have yourself a fairly robust health and safety policy.
Your policy doesn’t need to be pages and pages, it just needs to detail the simple facts about health and safety in your business and should reflect the amount of risk the business holds.
For example, if you deal with hazardous materials, you will need to do a lot more management of risks and risk assessments as well as legal obligations as far as registering yourself and reporting procedures.
You only need a policy if you have 5 or more employee’s, but if you have less than this it is still useful to set this up to minimise risk and being getting good practise in place whilst a business is still small.
Health and Safety Training
Everyone in an organisation needs to be aware of health and safety and be trained in what this means.
This includes agency staff and external contractors.
Many small businesses do this as part of their staff induction having a checklist of the basics to cover and spending time with a new employee making them aware of the policy, the building and their responsibilities.
You can choose to pay for an external trainer to come and do health and safety training for staff on a regular basis but in many cases training can be done more effectively internally, mainly because a lot of health and safety information is business specific and building specific so can be explained a lot more easier by an internal person who is aware of the businesses procedures.
As a guidance your health and safety training should contain:
- Employee responsibilities
- Basic awareness – what to do and what not to do e.g. don’t leave trailing wires, report anything dangerous etc
- Where to report accidents, incidents, near misses and health and safety issues
- Fire safety – fire exits, signage, evacuation muster points, responsible person
- First Aid – provision and location of first aid equipment, who the registered first aiders are
- Equipment – safety regarding equipment being used. For office based staff this can include a VDU (visual display unit) assessment.
- Policy – ensure its been read – I prefer to get a signature on file that the employee has read this for my own peace of mind.
Records need to be kept and maintained by the appointed health and safety person and by employees themselves.
These records should be kept together in an area everyone can access – I have a folder with all this information in for each year as it helps with collating and analysing health and safety incidents at the end of each year.
- Health and Safety Policy Statement – this needs to be printed and kept someone.
- Accident Book (for 10 or more employees – although its good practice to keep one of these for smaller businesses also)
- Accident Forms
- Risk assessments – see next section for details.
Record keeping is important and for many insurances, if this isn’t kept up to date, it can mean your insurance isn’t valid. These records will form an important part of any incident and will be your backup should anything bad happen in your workplace.
Accidents Recording and Reporting
This can be in any format (computer, hard copy, scanned copy) but there are some essential pieces of information that must be recorded which are:
- Date and time of incident, accident or near miss
- Name and job title of person / people involved
- Nature of the injury
- Location of where the accident, incident or near miss happened
- Brief description of the circumstances and how it came to happen
- Date reported to enforcing authorities – if relevant
The easiest way of ensuring you record everything is to purchase an Accident Book (B1510) which will ensure you record everything and keep copies as necessary. The book must be kept in a central location, easily accessible to all employees.
Although rare, if something serious does happen in your business that means an employee is out of work or not able to complete their full range of duties for more than 3 days then this needs to be reported to RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and dangerous Occurrences Regulations).
Risk assessments are there to ensure you have put in place actions to minimise or treat risks. They evaluate your current working practices and give you a clear view of what you are missing and what needs changing.
Risk management involves identifying risks, treating or minimising risks through control measures and continuous review of risks. It is a cycle of improvement that needs regular review in order to be successful.
You only need to have this written down if you have more than 5 employees.
I think the best way of monitoring risks is to create a timetable of risk assessments. Some risk assessments need doing regularly, some yearly and some sporadically so a clear timetable needs to be put in place.
Use templates that can be easily found on the internet (the best place I’ve found is the HSE website – here you can also find a web based tool for low risk office environments).
Some of these risk assessments will just simply be a statement that you don’t deal with this area of work so no risk is involved but it’s important to note this for file anyway.
The same template can be used for all risk assessments.
In general a risk assessment needs to include to following headings:
- What are the hazard?
- Who might be harmed by these hazards or who has access to these?
- What is being done to reduce risks associated with this hazard?
- What else could be done to reduce this risk further?
- Risk classification – high, medium or low (using a red, amber, green system for this is good for visual impact)
- Actions to be done by who and by when?
From this risk assessment it’s useful to create an action sheet of all actions so these are easily monitored and regularly reviewed at team meetings.
Staff don’t need to know the entire contents of all risk assessments but having a list of outcomes from these is useful for giving staff insight into the health and safety systems being carried out and reviewing at team meetings keeps these action sheets current.
1. General Office Safety – This is the risk assessment that’s going to be carried out most often. This requires a run through of the office on a regular basis to check for anything that could cause harm or create a risk to safety. Good practice says this should be done 2 weekly and that a complete walk through of the office should occur.
A list of what to look for is a good prompt for the assessor on what they are looking for. I also found it good to use different employees to do these assessments as different people pick up on different things.
The main things to look for are obstructions to through routes, trailing wires, loose electrical fittings, excessive paper causing a fire hazard, stacked up boxes etc. From this should come an action sheet that mostly has small actions that will mainly need priority attention.
2. Manual Handling – Most businesses won’t be dealing with large loads although there will be occasions where staff will need to carry boxes of paper or small office equipment.
Staff should be trained in how to lift in the correct way and having the HSE Manual Handling poster displayed alongside your Health and Safety Poster will provide a useful prompt for staff.
For low risk environments this should be done yearly, with a brief training session for staff on lifting and handling yearly and also included in the induction process.
3. Display Screen Equipment – Every 2 years is the guidance for this and a standard form can be found here.
Employers are required to ensure that staff have their workstations assessed for safety whether they are working from home or from the office. Any risks that occur need to be minimised.
These assessment should ideally be carried out when an employee moves desks or every 2 years.
4. Fire Risk Assessment – Fire risk assessments should be carried out to to ensure any fire risks are noted and the risks from these are minimised.
Fire alarms should be checked on a regular basis as should emergency lighting and fire fighting equipment such as fire extinguishers.
Fire drills should be carried out at least every 6 months to ensure staff are aware of evacuation points and to check all equipment is working.
Checks should be made of fire exits and these should always be clear.
Fire hazards need to be noted down in the assessment with details of possible sources of fuel (paper, wood, solvents, paint etc) and possible sources of ignition (naked flames, frictions, arson etc).
There are over 70 pieces of law that relate to fire safety in the office so it is important that offices maintain these which can be found at the communities and local government website.
|5. First Aid – First Aid boxes should be regularly checked for correct contents, in date and First Aiders need to be kept certified with a list by each box.
6. COSHH – Control of Substances Hazardous to Health – Most small businesses won’t deal with high risk hazardous substances but a simple risk assessment to say that the office has been scanned at least once a year to ensure anything hazardous isn’t kept on site is good to do.
In a small office environment you will find some low risk items such as photocopy toners, cleaning liquids and paints are classified as hazardous. These should be listed in your risk assessment so a record is kept of these. For low risk this can be done yearly.
Smaller, more specific risk assessment include:
- Equipment maintenance – Equipment should be checked for things like twisted or breaking wires and all equipment should be in full working order.
- Electrical system and appliances – PAT testing which should occur every 3 years.
- Noise – Only relevant if noise exceeds a certain level.
- Personal Protective Equipment – If staff needs PPE for their jobs a risk assessment needs to be done to ensure they have the correct gear and that’s it’s in full working order.
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